Although I’ve been in show business most of my life, I also have two college degrees and have held a number of corporate positions, aka ‘day jobs.’ I’ve owned my own business and had several lucrative careers. But I find that I can exert influence and do more good as ‘Dolly,’ even if people know it isn’t the real thing. They respond positively, from hospitalized children to homebound seniors to waiters.
Even though I am a ‘counterfeit,’ I am often accorded the benefits of Ms. Parton’s success and the fruits of her labors, such as good seats and service at events and VIP treatment in general. By the same token, I am keenly aware of the curiosity and stares, and have a taste of what it must be like for celebrities to have no sense of privacy whatsoever. I'm glad I can take off the wigs, make-up and (ahem) padding - and more or less fade into the woodwork again at will, although in Sevier County, Tennessee, I still get asked if I'm related or if I'm a 'Parton' frequently.
I sometimes travel as a performer as well, but I am primarily hired for ‘meet and greets,’ corporate functions, birthday parties and other special appearances, often in Dolly’s own backyard. I live in Sevier County Tennessee, home to Dollywood theme park, and Nashville, Tennessee - Music City, USA - where tourists might halfway hope to see the familiar buxom blonde and folks get excited when I wave or pass through a restaurant as 'Miss Dolly.' Teen-age girls follow me into the restroom and pretend to wash their hands as they scrutinize me in the mirror, wondering if it’s really ‘HER!”
Sitting in traffic at a stoplight, a carload of people next to me roll down their windows in 30-degree weather screaming “…Dol-ly! Dol-ly!...” (As if Dolly would actually be driving an old, dirty, beat-up Dodge mini-van - my usual mode of transportation!)
Although I openly confess to being only a lowly imposter, people still want pictures and autographs. Celebrity impersonators often develop a fan base of their own.
While I am flattered that my appearance is apparently somewhat believable, I can’t help feeling like I am somehow cheating, because there is only one Dolly, a multi-talented woman who has worked hard to achieve much and ‘riding her coattails’ is not what I thought I would be doing in my 50’s....but honoring her is something I will gladly do.
Personally, I don’t think I look or sound very much like my idol and I certainly don’t have her legendary figure. And yes, I have met her in person - more than once! The first time was totally unexpected and, reduced to jelly in her ethereal presence, I could barely contain myself. I wondered if I should kneel or bow or....? Somehow, I managed not to wet my pants and even gave her a copy of my book.
Even though at the time, I was not dressed in my ‘Dolly getup’ and was unable to actually speak, the first thing she told me was that we could pass for sisters! I finally floated away in awe of her graciousness, friendliness, humor and beauty. Her music had already captured my heart.
I try to infuse my version of Dolly with the honest, humble, homespun attitude, Smoky Mountain roots and bubbly vivaciousness that defines Dolly herself. I draw upon my own East Tennessee heritage, my parents down-to-earth sensibilities and humor and my lifelong love of the mountains and mountain people for inspiration.
A close friend who knows the Parton family has told me that even without trying, I embody Dolly’s "energy and unbridled spirit of fun." A cousin of hers said that my own personality, practicality and wit mirror hers naturally and she can really see a resemblance. Another musician friend who has often worked onstage with her once told me I was the ‘essence’ of Dolly.
I thought of ‘essence’ as perfume or a scent, but, hey, smelling like Dolly Parton is fine with me. Better her than Willie Nelson.
Me, Dolly and Sheila Kelly from Diamond Tours
For my bookings and appearances, a reasonable facsimile seems to be all that’s required. As Dolly, I try to maintain the mannerisms and decorum that I think she would display. I try not to burp, curse, scratch anything that itches, pick my nose or get drunk in public, not that I would do those things anyway. Usually. Oh, and I also leave large tips as Dolly. That’s T-I-P-S.
I'm behind Dolly, on the left wearing white, without my 'Dolly' make-up, hair or ....
I am a celebrity tribute artist and impersonator. Although as an actress I have played other roles and celebrities, these days I portray only country music icon, Dolly Parton. She has always been one of my own role models and is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world today. Normally unimpressed by fame and fortune, Ms. Parton is one of the few exceptions to my indifference. She represents my own ideals, heritage and music. I am a BIG fan.
If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery then Ms. Parton should feel the warmth of a dedicated cadre of admirers, both male and female, besides myself. She has often told the story of entering a Dolly Parton look-alike contest as a participant – and losing to one of the drag queens!
“I guess somebody else looked more like me than I did!” she laughs.
The blond wigs, make-up, flashy clothes and music have all become a part of my alter-ego and the tools of my trade. One of her oft-quoted lines is “...it costs a lot to look this cheap…!” and I can indeed vouch for that.
Some tribute artists stay out on the road, paying homage to the likes of Johnny Cash, Cher and, of course, Elvis, in nightly shows. Some do more than one character and it is not unusual for them to spend thousands of dollars on authentically detailed costumes in order to accurately portray their superstar counterparts.
copyright 2011, all rights reserved
C.J. Morgan as Dolly Parton
In our celebrity-obsessed culture, looking even a little like someone famous can be a blessing or a curse. I decided to turn it into a blessing.
."...I wanted to say how much I enjoyed the show last night. It was great! I've had the pleasure of seeing Dolly in concert many times and I was blown away with your show. You sound so much like her....."
- Allen Chastain, Walland, TN
My Life as Dolly Parton
By C.J. Morgan
(2011, Reprinted with permission)
C.J. is also a writer of some note, having written for numerous magazine and journal publications as well as a memoir released in 2009. (See www.TNroselady.com) Here is one of her articles;